University of California Museum of Paleontology UCMP in the field See the world (and its fossils) with UCMP's field notes.
About UCMP People Blog Online Exhibits Public programs Education Collections Research

Archive for October 2012

Finding fossils in our national parks

National Fossil Day 2012 logo

In celebration of National Fossil Day (October 17, 2012), an event first organized by the National Parks Service (NPS) two years ago, we would like to call your attention to a feature on The Paleontology Portal website: "Fossils in US National Parks." First announced in January of this year (see the January 2012 UCMP News), the module's interactive map enables one to see all the parks where fossils are present and to find out what fossils (along with their geologic ages) are in any particular park. Improvements in the module's "searchability" have been made since then and better fossil data continue to be entered into the database.

You can now browse the more than 230 "fossil-bearing" parks by state, geologic age, fossil type, and park name. Each search is cumulative so you can continually refine your search by selecting new criteria. For example, suppose you want to find out what fossil parks exist in Utah. Select "Utah" in the States browse list and the map will show you Utah and all the national parks that are known to preserve fossils there. You can always click on any park marker to find out what geologic ages and fossils are represented in that park … but what if you want to see only those Utah parks known to have ammonite fossils? Just select "ammonites" from the Fossils browse list and those Utah parks where ammonites exist — or in some cases, potentially exist — will be shown on the map. But you're interested only in Cretaceous ammonites — no problem! Select "Cretaceous" from the Geologic Ages browse list and the map will show you only those parks with Cretaceous ammonites in Utah.

Map search results

From left, the map generated after selecting "Utah" from the States browse list; the map after then selecting "ammonites" from the Fossils browse list; and the map after selecting "Cretaceous" from the Geologic Ages browse list.

Vince Santucci and Jason Kenworthy of the NPS Geologic Resources Division and paleo-consultant Justin Tweet deserve the thanks for providing virtually all the geologic age and fossil data for the parks. This resource would not have been possible without their input. As more detailed inventories of each park's paleontological resources are prepared and new fossils are found, the information will be forwarded to UCMP so that the fossil parks database can be kept current.

So the next time you plan to visit a national park, visit PaleoPortal first and find out what, if any, fossils have been found there!

Announcing UCMP's 2013 Fossil Treasures Calendar

Calendar spread

Twelve elegant examples of archival richness

Open any drawer in the UCMP collections and you will view an assortment of clues to the past. Each labeled object provides a "what, where, and when" and thus helps to portray slices of past biodiversity on different spatial and temporal scales. But these fossil treasures are, by themselves, only a small piece of the story and represent only a small part of the role of a natural history museum. It is when you add in the field notes, the correspondence of the collector, the newspaper clippings, the sketches and photos and maps that you see the bigger picture and you begin to fathom the breadth and depth of the collective memory of the UCMP.

And that is exactly what is portrayed in the 2013 UCMP Fossil Treasures Calendar! Each month features specimens, fossil localities, and/or personalities, along with the stories behind them, accompanied by photos, illustrations, and maps from the museum's archives. Thumbnails of each month's "big picture" can be seen below.

We hope you will consider purchasing a calendar and giving them as gifts to friends and family. After all, all proceeds support UCMP research, education, and outreach. Only $10! If you are interested, please contact Chris Mejia at or call 510-642-1821.

Big picture thumbnails

UCMP receives a grant to develop Understanding Global Change

The University of California Museum of Paleontology and the National Center for Science Education are undertaking a new project that ultimately will enhance 21st Century science literacy in the context of the causes and consequences of global change.

The need:

Although scientists are in agreement that significant changes (including climate change) are occurring on a global level, the public remains confused and often views statements of change with ill-founded skepticism and in some instances denial about the causes and implications of these changes.  K-16 teachers and the general public need a source of information that is accessible and scientifically valid, that describes and explains the nature and impact of global change, and that describes the processes by which scientists arrive at their consensus opinions.  Teachers need a “one-stop shop” for global change resources, much as they have a site for evolution education resources in Understanding Evolution, and for resources for the teaching of the nature of science in Understanding Science.  The web resource that we propose, Understanding Global Change, will meet these needs.

The impact:

We have chosen to focus on a resource for K-16 educators given that an individual’s basic science literacy and critical thinking begin to grow during formal and informal K-12 education and mature in higher education.  To this end, the immediate goals of the project are to develop a freely accessible and engaging web-based resource that (1) provides K-16 science educators with an improved understanding of the processes, causes and rates of global change through time and their resulting biotic impacts, (2) provides clarity on the strengths and limitations of scientific arguments about global change, i.e., how we know what we know and what we currently do not know, and (3) provides resources and strategies that encourage and enable K-16 teachers to incorporate the impact of global change into their teaching.  In turn, this will afford the opportunity for their students, and ultimately the general public, to better understand the science behind global change impacts, its relevance to society, the role of human agency in both cause and solution, and how science arrives at its current thinking.

We look forward to working with NCSE and an energetic Advisory Board to develop this much-needed resource and are grateful to the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for providing funding for the endeavor.

The Arrival of the Fossils

My visit to the Regatta Facility

The UCMP houses one of the largest fossil collections associated with a university in the world, so it is no wonder that some of the fossils need to be stored off-campus at the UC Regatta facility, located nearby in Richmond. This large warehouse is home to multiple campus-wide museum collections, including a variety of enormous whale skulls, huge ichthyosaur skeletons, and cyclopean bones of mammoths and dinosaurs from the Museum of Paleontology.

The Regatta facility is also the current location of the fossils that have been recovered from the 4th bore Caldecott Tunnel project, and so I recently paid a visit. From the somewhat daunting pile of boxes, I selected several big, heavy ones labeled “vertebrates” and “invertebrates,” as well as some lighter, flat containers labeled “plants,” to take back to the UCMP in Berkeley. And the next day, I went to work.

Left: a newly-opened box of fossils from the Caldecott Tunnel 4th bore; Right: my workspace in the UCMP fossil preparation lab

Removing the lid of the first box revealed a pile of small bundles enveloped in toilet paper and neatly packed away in labeled plastic bags. After unwrapping a few of these small packages, I began to get an idea of the variety of fossils and rock samples that come from the Caldecott Tunnel. Most of the fossils I’ve seen so far are small, ranging in size from a tiny tooth several millimeters long, to some about as large as a fist. Many are broken or incomplete. But though they may not be visually impressive, they are rich in history. Not only will these fossils elucidate what the environment and climate of the East Bay was like in the middle Miocene Epoch, 9-16 million years ago, but they also provide clues about what happened to these organisms after they died. It is interesting, for example, that most of the invertebrate fossils are natural molds or ‘impressions’ in pieces of rock, while the vertebrates are preserved mainly as pieces of bones and teeth. Did they live in different habitats? Did they die in different places? How were these fossils preserved? These questions remain to be answered, and we’ll have to wait until further evidence comes in as I unpack and examine more material!

The plant fossils, however, are another story. Their preservation is quite good, and there are many leaves that can be seen very clearly, complete with anatomical details, on small slabs of rock. They are also especially interesting because they are particularly good indicators of the ancient climate of the San Francisco Bay Area, and provide a comparison of current and past geographic ranges of particular species. Watch for more on the Caldecott Tunnel fossils in future blog posts!

UCMP paleontologist Mark Goodwin examines a foot bone of an ancient camel

A drawer full of unpacked Caldecott Tunnel fossils